How to Build an Aluminum Boat – Part One: 

Setting up the Jig

Adventure 16 Elaho Edition headed out to the lake

In my first article on boat-building, 7 tips to Building an Aluminum Boat Successfully the First Time, I touched on some of the hard-fought lessons I learned on my first boat build. My goal was to save you from some of the traps I fell into, even after years of working as a welder. Building boats isn’t easy; mistakes compound quickly and your credit card might have to pick up the slack. I received many great questions from that article, and clearly you, the reader, were as intrigued as I was about building your very own boat. I would encourage you to watch my youtube video first, Aluminum Boat Building Disaster – My Project is Over, before rushing out and building your first boat. Knowledge is key, and I hope I can provide you with a step-by-step guide to getting it right the first time. Building your own boat is extremely rewarding and also challenging. But first, a few words of caution before we dive in.

Disclaimer: It’s important to understand and follow your country’s requirements for boat building. I, or anyone at Adventure Marine, recommend that you consult a professional local boat builder during the construction of your boat.The information here is intended to help you realize your vision, but is in no way a substitute for professional, hands-on guidance.

Selecting your desig

One of the first steps, and also one of the most important, in building your boat is setting up the jig. Boat hulls are constructed in a number of different ways, but for the purposes of this blog, I am going to focus on a design from MetalBoatKits.com. I have built two of designer Rick Wellins’ boats now. They have been rebranded as the Adventure 12 and the Adventure 16, as I have made modifications to both designs to suit my needs. They both use a similar jig and the setup process is identical for both boats.

Custom made sawhorses. These one's in hindsight were too high off the ground. Consider something lower.

Sawhorse construction

I chose to construct sawhorses for my build, but you can mount the jig directly on the ground if you wish. But there are some advantages to using sawhorses, and I would highly recommend you take the extra time to build them. Sawhorses raise the boat off the ground and make running the welds along the chine much easier (as you can sit on a rolling chair instead of the cold, unforgiving concrete!). In general, sawhorses are a great addition to any shop and make the building process more enjoyable. The caveat to this is sawhorses for your build should be lower in height than traditional horses, as the added height of the jig and boat will make getting in and out more difficult. 

Locating the Sawhorses

It’s important to think about where you will build your boat. There are a few factors to consider. How will you flip the boat over after welding? I built a custom A-frame to assist in flipping the boat and loading it onto my trailer after the build. Another important factor is the location of welders/equipment. You need sufficient room to work, flip the hull, and load it onto a trailer after completion. Our 16’ boat was over 600lbs after it was finished. So, before you get too carried away, consider all steps of the building process before bolting the jig to the ground!

 

Positioning and Anchoring

It’s important you anchor your sawhorse to the concrete floor. This is critical, as you will be using hydraulic jacks down the road to form the bow of your boat. It is also key that the jig does not move or shift during the build. I can’t stress enough how important this step is. I used flush-mounted concrete drop-in anchors to eliminate the tripping hazard of studs. So first, pre-position your sawhorses and jig, then drill and anchor after completing steps 1-4 of the alignment and leveling (described below).

An A-frame will make flipping your boat over a snap, as well as loading it onto the trailer after construction.
aft deck lockers are ideal for storage and strong enough to support your weight while standing.
The console is ideal for driving and mounting necessary hardware, it does however impede movement on the boat.
The bow seat is an ideal location for fishing and relaxing on the water. The alternate location is in front of the port seat.

Alignment and Leveling  

No concrete floor is exactly level; they often have a slope to help water run away. I used some jacking bolts from Adventure Marine’s Model 3000 Swivel Bracket to assist in the leveling process, but you could use nuts and a wrench to produce the same result. It’s important to have a level boat during the build, as there is a degree of craftsmanship to boat building. Being able to compare port and starboard sides by eye is key, and a non-level jig might fool you into thinking one side of your boat is uneven from the other.    

 

Next is a step-by-step guide for proper leveling and alignment:

Plan view (top view) of the jig and sawhorses

 

  1. Bolt the jig to the frame using angle iron and ¼” bolts
  2. Square and center your jig in your shop, accounting for the full length and width of the finished boat.

 

Black lines show location of tape measure

3.Cross square the jig from the points shown. Adjust the sawhorse until both numbers are the same. 

It’s best to work with a partner to ensure your tape measure lands in the exact location on both sides. 

Take your time to get the cross square as accurate as possible. 

 

side view of the sawhorse. The red line represents your vertical laser.

4. Drill your anchoring holes    in one sawhorse only, and install threaded rods with leveling nuts.

5. Pull the other sawhorse tight, cross square the jig again, and anchor the last sawhorse.

6. Use a laser to level on all corners of the jig.

7.  Check the jig for plum using the laser.

8. Tighten your locking nuts

9. Double-check cross square, level, and plum, and adjust if needed. 

 

What’s to come: Beginning the Build

In the next blog, we will look at the tacking in the first four panels of the boat. The quality of this single step will dictate how well the entire build goes for you. During my first build, I cut my boat apart three times because I rushed this step. Any errors in alignment, even 1/16th of an inch, are compounded widely by the time you reach the nose of the boat 16’ later. I will go over in detail exactly how to tack up the boat, which welder settings to use, and much more. 

If you liked this blog, please leave a comment! Your feedback helps me create more content for you. 

Written by Greg Epp

August 16, 2020

CEO Adventure Marine MFG

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